Back on Track in New Orleans

It’s been quite a while since we’ve written up any of our travels. We’ve been traveling quite a bit lately but we’ve been time-challenged to put all our experiences in “print.” But, I’ve been verbally regaling my friends with some of our old and new travel stories and most have said they should be written up, so we are going to try to get back on track with this.

We kick off this year’s stories with our most recent trip to New Orleans, Louisiana. This is not our first trip (I think it’s our 5th) and it was instigated by my having to attend and present at a conference located not far from the Superdome. Art got the chance to visit some museums while I was working and we got together in the evening to eat dinner and exchange our stories for the day. We reserved two weekend days to go places together and by the end we realized that we pretty much ate our way through New Orleans (something we always do).

The good news is that we ate at some new places instead of our “favorites.” That’s mainly because we couldn’t get a reservation at Mr. B’s Bistro, where I salivate over the BBQ Shrimp. BBQ Shrimp in New Orleans is not like shrimp on the grill. It’s swimming in butter, spices and Worcestershire sauce. Messy but gooooood! So I was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t get to sit down to, what I consider, a dream meal. We instead were treated to some new dreams.

St Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square

St Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square

Our first dinner was complements of an industry association that I belong to and was reserved for the Fellows of the association. We were celebrating 50 years of “Fellowdom” at Emeril’s Delmonico restaurant in the Warehouse District of town. Art and I are Emeril fans so we were stoked for a great meal and got it. Starters just kept being presented at our table before we ever made a commitment to ordering anything off the 4-course limited but inspired menu for the event. Jerk Chicken, Spicy Shrimp, Crab Balls, and more were constantly being replaced along with the wine. Spicy but not so spicy that your eyes would water. I picked the Delmonico Chicken Clemenceau entrée and it was deliciously accented with ham. I topped it off with a small creme brulee – not really remarkable but nice to end with. Overall, a wonderful dining experience and the chance to see old friends.

The next night Art ate at the hotel restaurant, Lüke. And even though he had a hamburger, I know he had a better meal than I did. I went to a conference event at Mardi Gras World. This place offers a behind-the-scenes look at the Mardi Gras floats when they are not on parade. The floats were beautiful and the place was huge but the food was less than stellar. Not bad but on par with what you can get at the Convention Center. However, Art’s hamburger was a thing of beauty and he was thoroughly satisfied with his meal.

NOMA Sculpture Garden Tableau

The final day of the conference we dined at GW Fins. The conference finally over, we made our plans for the weekend with a friend of mine who was also attending the event. We had heard good things about this restaurant and weren’t disappointed. This was not a cheap place and on par price wise with Emeril’s, but well worth it. Art, of course, ordered the most dramatically presented appetizer, Smoked Oysters. You can smell them as they are being brought to the table and smoke wafts throughout the dining room for at least 3 minutes. He loved them. I had the Wood-Grilled Gulf Shrimp. Less dramatic but just as tasty. We all had some form of snapper for dinner. Art had the Jolt Snapper, which was an evening special, while I had the Red Snapper with Shrimp Etoufee and Jasmine Rice. The Jasmine rice was a little too sticky for my taste but the rest of the dish was excellent. Of course, we had dessert – even though we really didn’t need it. I decided to go with the Coconut Sorbet – refreshing and creamy and Art went for something called the Salty Malty. The Salty Malty was a pie with a pretzel crust and malt-flavored cream filling. A sweet salty taste treat.

Reading this you would think that all we did was eat during this trip. Eating in New Orleans is definitely a memorable experience but we had a great time walking along Royal Street in the French Quarter and checking out the antiques stores. One standout was M.S. Rau Antiques. We were definitely just window shopping at this place. It’s like walking through a decorative arts museum except that all the items are for sale. Definitely worth stopping for.

On Saturday we did more walking and riding and less eating. We picked up a $3 unlimited-ride day-pass for the streetcars and buses at Walgreen and were set for the day. The three of us headed to the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) and Sculpture Garden via the Canal Street Streetcar. The Sculpture Garden is free to the public so we checked that out first. Serenity is the key word here with some visually striking art along the way.

This particular weekend the NOMA was not only filled with its regular artifacts and exhibits but beautiful flower arrangements were displayed in each of the exhibit areas and added liveliness to the place that enhanced the objects on display. (Bring your AAA card to save $2 off the adult admission or look for a coupon on one of the local tourist maps.) The rest of the afternoon was spent riding the different streetcars and buses through the Garden District, with its magnificent houses and parks. This area is a beautiful counterpoint to the rowdy French Quarter (especially on Bourbon Street). The parks are quiet and the atmosphere is far less frenzied. We ended our day at the Superior Seafood Restaurant where I was able to dine on some BBQ Shrimp – on par with Mr. B’s Bistro and costing about $5 less. Even though it’s not in the heart of the tourist district this place was still very busy (and a little loud) and had a great menu for seafood lovers. And, being located on St Charles Street, within an easy walk to a Streetcar stop, this place turned out to be very convenient. Our hotel was located on the same streetcar line and it was an easy trip back. A full day of traveling all over New Orleans for $3 a person – we were literally back on track (streetcar track – that is) to enjoying New Orleans just like in days gone by.

Priscilla, one half of the Travel2some


8 Days in Turks & Caicos: Lessons Learned

We vacationed in Turks & Caicos a couple of weeks ago and had a nice time. We loved being with the grandchildren and the beaches were clean and beautiful with some of the softest sand you can imagine. However, we tend to like to go to places with more historical interest or museums so TCI would not have necessarily been our first pick as a vacation spot.  In Providenciales, where we stayed, places to go of historical interest are slim and the tours to go to those places were very expensive for the amount of time that would be spent visiting the sites so we decided to forego those activities in favor of staying closer to our own surroundings (which can be relaxing but also a little boring).

So what did we learn? Well we already knew that it would be expensive. My son had already warned us about that and we discussed that a little bit in my previous post.  Again, this is an island where everything has to be imported – expensive comes with the territory. But we did learn some other things that may be useful to others who want to visit.


After walking around for an hour in the new room

For most vacationers you will be staying in a condo owned by someone else. Because of that the consistency of quality when it comes to furnishings and general upkeep of a particular unit can be somewhat inconsistent. Our stay in our first room (a suite that costs about $200 a night) at the Ocean Club West was marred by a leaky roof, a stove that did not work, light bulbs not replaced in lamps and fixtures, and ants in the kitchen area. The roof only leaked one night so we ignored that but we called the hotel staff about each of the other problems. Each had to be called again after no resolution on the first calls. We didn’t even complain about the chest of drawers that was so old that the drawers would fall out when you opened it and the lack of closet space because a washer and dryer was installed in that area (suites don’t normally have a washer/dryer). We weren’t offered a different room until I tweeted my unhappiness. At that point we were offered an upgrade to a one bedroom suite. Of course, this was at the tail end of the vacation but we decided to make the move anyway. We ended up in a unit above the one my son and his family were staying in. Bigger with no ants it was nicely decorated and had a great view of the pool.  But, apparently, they don’t really prep rooms very well for incoming guests because the floors were filthy. And we found out that if we close the door to the bedroom the air flowing under the door from the air conditioner howled. We decided to leave the door open the next night. If you are looking for consistency of quality certain resort properties just don’t offer that.

News of problems does not travel fast. We only learned of a form of norovirus or sickness that had spread to the next door resort while listening to staff talk about it in passing. The outbreak literally shut down reservations at the very upscale Grace Bay resort located next door. We were lucky to not have gotten sick while on the trip.  We had planned to go to Grace Bay resort Infinity Bar one night during our stay but the place looked a little too isolated when we walked by. It was a couple of days later when we realized why the place was deserted. The outbreak also affected a couple of other resorts at that time.

But, theft, like on any tourist location, can be a problem. So rental car companies recommend you do not lock your vehicle so the windows do not get smashed in. Bottom line: don’t leave anything valuable in the car if you rent. We didn’t experience any problems with this but we’re from NYC – we NEVER leave anything in the car that can be ripped off.

Don’t believe anyone who says there are no mosquitos on TCI. Bring bug repellent especially for dining out (since most restaurants are al fresco).

Al fresco dining (especially at night) is highly overrated, especially when it’s windy and there isn’t enough lighting to see what you are eating.  This seemed to be the case at many establishments.


Conch Shell vendor outside Da Conch Shack

Enjoy the local cuisine and local flavors. Our best dinners were at the local haunts such as the Tiki Hut and da Conch Shack. Da Conch Shack is right on the beach where you can dine on picnic tables outside or under a roof (everything is open air). There are vendors on site selling conch shells and most of the smaller souvenirs were reasonably priced.

If you are into water sports this is the place for you.  My son was able to enjoy a Hobie Cat while we were there and there are plently of opportunities for snorkeling, diving, swimming, paddleboarding, etc. I don’t swim so these are not enticements for me but for others this is what TCI is perfect for.

The people are the best thing about Turks and Caicos. Everywhere we went we felt welcome. They were all friendly and helpful.


Providenciales Dining: Savoring Conch in All its Forms

We’ve been back from Turks & Caicos for a few days now and I’ve been meaning to write down a few thoughts about our trip.  We spent 8 days in a suite at the Ocean Club West Resort  in Providenciales. My review of that place will follow separately but we could have had a better accommodation than we did.  Nevertheless, the objective was to relax and spend quality time with the grandchildren and my son and daughter-in-law and that we did.

The challenge with TCI (as the country is referred to) is that it is quite expensive to both stay and dine there. It’s a series of islands and islands typically have higher costs when it comes to food. We knew that going in so we did what we could to keep costs down.  My son actually travelled with a portable cooler that contained frozen steaks, hamburgers, and hot dogs for his family’s consumption. He had no problem bringing the food into the country since it was frozen and was only meant for personal use.  The resort has a couple of very good grills on site so he was able to grill up some food for his family on a few occasions.  Steaks on the island typically cost in the area of $29-$36 so he saved considerable money there.

However, when I go on vacation I generally don’t want to cook and I do want to sample the local cuisine, so we did not go with the frozen food strategy. We do know that in most places breakfasts are over priced so we brought over breakfast snacks that we bought at Costco and went to the local supermarket near the resort and bought some items to make breakfast and lunch.  Food there was more expensive than we find in the supermarket at home but it was still cheaper than going to a restaurant for breakfast.  Since we had a kitchenette in the room we decided we could make french toast for a few meals and bought a small loaf of bread, a half-gallon of milk, a dozen eggs and some butter.  Those items totaled about  $18.00 – not cheap but cheaper than paying for one meal of French Toast at $10 a person.  We got 6 French Toast entrees out of that and Art made a couple of omelets with the balance of the eggs.  We also brought some flavored rum miniatures with us that we had purchased during our St Thomas vacation and I used portions of the Coconut Rum and Vanilla Rum to flavor the French Toast batter. Yummy.

And, even though dinners on the island aren’t cheap we found that many of the meals were high quality and delicious.  It also pays to eat what’s local or what is considered normal food for the area.  In TCI it’s conch in all its many forms.  We had conch fritters, conch fingers, conch ceviche and conch salad.  All were delicious, although the conch from Da Conch Shack was the best.  Listed in the book 1000 Places to See Before You Die, the atmosphere was relaxed and fun.  The Conch Combo did not disappoint. It was accompanied by another island favorite – rice and peas.  I’m not a big fan of peas but these are pigeon peas.  If you are Puerto Rican (like myself) you know them as gandules.  So essentially rice and peas is Arroz con Gandules a dish I am very familiar with and love.  I was in heaven. Since this is considered the off-season the service was excellent.  I also had conch fritters at the Seaside Cafe at the resort and at the Tiki Hut Restaurant. 

Ribs and Fries from Seaside Cafe

The Tiki Hut deserves a shout out for some of the best ribs I’ve ever had.  Moist and sweet with sufficient meat on the bone to make them worth getting messy.  The entrée cost $18 and that seems to be the going rate for ribs across the island. Their drink specials were pretty good too.  Just make sure to apply your mosquito repellent before you go otherwise you’ll get eaten alive while you’re dining.


Conch Fritters from the Seaside Cafe


We also enjoyed Jimmy’s Dive Bar.  It is what it sounds like – a dive – but the half-priced piña coladas during Happy Hour were very good and the conch sampler was very tasty and well priced.  They serve breakfast all day – at high-end breakfast prices but are also known for a wide variety of hamburger platters.  As dives go, it was really quite civilized and the service was also very good.

The only restaurant we went to that we considered to be overhyped and with less than stellar service was Hemingway’s at the Sands Resort.  Our waitress did not take our order correctly and my entrée of crab cakes was ample but unremarkable. No one else was raving about their meal either so it was not the best experience.  It also didn’t help to be downwind from a cigar-smoker lazing after his dinner by the pool, which is adjacent to the restaurant. Cuban cigars are available in TCI so I understand why someone would want to savor the experience but not next to where I’m eating a meal.

Another place we enjoyed was Giggles, an ice cream shop located right near Jimmy’s Dive Bar.  Lots of selection in ice cream flavors and friendly service made this a fun stop.  But in the TCI heat you have to scarf down your ice cream pretty quick before it melts all over you.

Overall, our outlay for dinners wasn’t cheap ranging anywhere from $45 to $85 per night for two people, most of the time with some form of alcoholic beverage (the rum punches go down very smoothly) but we enjoyed our meals and the relaxed atmosphere of the restaurants and the friendliness of the service all across Providenciales.

 Priscilla (one half of the Travel2Some

Tony Cheng’s Mongolian Grill – Tradition Amongst The Change

A few weeks ago, while in Washington DC on business, I had the opportunity to have dinner at an old favorite. Actually, my choice was pretty much made for me since the only restaurants located within walking distance of my hotel were located in the Gallery Place/ Chinatown area of DC and the area was teeming with Caps fans converging on the nearby Verizon Center for the evening’s game.

I had just finished visiting the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and was starving. This area of DC has changed significantly over the last 12 years and has a lot of restaurant choices but most were packed to the gills, with lines going outside the door in some cases. And, when I checked Open Table for a place to get a reservation I was out of luck until much later in the evening.

Then I remembered Tony Cheng’s Restaurant right around the corner from all the hustle and bustle and near to the Chinatown gate. The restaurant upstairs is a standard “sit down” place but downstairs has the “grill,” a buffet that hasn’t really changed since I last dined there, more than 12 years ago. The dining room was a sea of red Caps’ jerseys but I was seated immediately.

I always loved this place and this visit re-cemented that adoration. The waiter took my drink order and asked if I was familiar with the routine. Since I was, no explanation was necessary but he did issue a reminder, vegetables and noodles in the bottom of the bowl, meat on top.

The grill is centered in the middle of the dining room and there are two access points to the food. You, essentially, move around in a semi-circle around the buffet and fill your bowl with the items you want cooked on the grill. The food generally “cooks down” so filling up the bowl is a requirement unless you want to make lots of trips back and forth to your table. The vegetables include cilantro (an herb but who cares), carrots, peppers, onions, bean sprouts, snow peas and more. There are also noodles and scallions – cooked white rice is automatically placed on your table. The choice of meats are thinly sliced frozen versions of beef, chicken, pork and lamb. Shrimp costs extra.

After you’ve filled your bowl you end up in front of the tiered array of sauces and oils that are used to cook the items. You can pick your own sauces or just hand the bowl over to the cook and have them select the sauces appropriate to the meat you’ve selected. Over time I’ve realized that the cooks are a better judge of what will taste good than I am so I just handed them my bowl and watched them cook my beef and vegetables loaded with cilantro. This whole exercise took less than 5 minutes from the time I was seated.

When I returned to my table the bowl of white rice, a dish of marinated cabbage, and a basket of sesame bread were waiting for me. The bread is ideal for sopping up the sauce at the bottom of the bowl. I went back a couple more times for chicken and lamb and I was done. The meal is topped off with a small dollop of the ice cream selection(s) for the day and a fortune cookie.

And, of course, the check. The buffet costs $16.95 plus drink, tax and tip. For this neighborhood and the quality of food this is still one of the best deals in town. The neighborhood may have changed a great deal over the last several years and most people will say that is a change for the better but it’s nice to know that Tony Cheng’s still offers its traditional fare at reasonable prices.


Foursquare: More Than Just Checking In

I’ve been using Foursquare for about a year now and although it’s nice to see where friends are eating and traveling, I’m finding the “specials” more fulfilling.  During our recent trip to San Francisco we were able to score a special of $10 off each night’s stay at the Hotel Donatello.  In our case, that was a savings of $60 – not too shabby. 

I’ve also managed to save $5 on a meal at Victor’s Cafe in New York City, score free fries at Houlihan’s in Orlando, and get a buy one – get one free deal on drinks at the the Lobby Bar at the Sawgrass Marriott Resort in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.  We also opened up the free chips and salsa deal at Chili’s but didn’t use it because we got a better deal that day.  These aren’t necessarily big rewards but they add up and it’s like using a coupon to get a few bucks off a meal.  Instead, all you have to do is show the server or receptionist the special on your phone.

There are values in those check-ins.

Eating Our Way Through San Francisco

I was attending a conference last week in San Francisco and Art decided to join me on the trip since it is one of our favorite cities.  I would attend the conference and we would spend a couple of days exploring some places we hadn’t been to before.  Art had never really stayed around the Union Square area so this was a new territory for him and as fate would have it my son was in the same area on business too – so we had some opportunities to get together during our stay.

We arrived in the early evening on a Monday and were starved but didn’t want to go too far from where we were staying.  Our first room at the Hotel Donatello was less than stellar but we were promised a new room the next day so didn’t really unpack.  Instead we headed downstairs to the Zingari Lounge where jazz is played every evening and Happy Hour bar appetizers are half price from 3:30 pm to 6:30 pm daily and from Sun – Thurs from 9 pm till closing.  Art and I shared crab cakes with paprika aioli, Prince Edward Island Mussels sautéed with Roma Tomatoes, Garlic White Wine & Grilled Country Bread, and we each had a plate of Fried CalamariDuring Happy Hours there are also $5 wines, beers and cocktails.  My son joined us a little later for a beer and we enjoyed the sounds of the jazz bass and piano in an intimate yet friendly atmosphere. Not a bad way to start the trip.

The next day was a busy work day for me but Art had the opportunity to join an old High School friend for lunch at Cafe de La Presse.  This turned out to be a great place and we went back there together later on during the week.  In the meantime I joined a business associate of mine for a fantastic lunch at the Waterbar on the Embarcadero.  This place really has a great view of the Bay Bridge and the food was excellent.  Not cheap by any means, the restaurant featured professional yet friendly service and a reasonable variety of lunch entrées.  We decided to sit in the bar area for the view but the menu is the same no matter where you sit.  The quote on the top of the menu caught my attention, ” We are indeed much more than what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are,” ~ Adelle Davis.  It helped to set the tone for a memorable meal.

As it happens we both ordered the same entrée, Grilled Bavette Steak with fingerling potato hash, grilled asparagus, and truffle aioli.  The presentation and the dish were magnificent.  For dessert I had the Meyer Lemon Soufflé Cake with crème chantilly and candied thyme shortbread.  It was light and fluffy with the just the right balance of sweet and tart to end the meal. My dining companion had the Chocolate Oatmeal Walnut Ice Cream Sandwich with vanilla ice cream and cocoa nibs.  A little messier to eat but just as enjoyable.

It was back to the conference which ended with a reception, where I got to down a couple of white wines before meeting Art back at the Zingari Lounge where he was having a martini.  After a lot of texting and phone calls we got back together for dinner with business associates of mine.  My son joined us at a place called Scala’s Bistro.  There were 7 of us at the table (including the person I had lunch with earlier in the day) and with a quick reservation made by the concierge at the Grand Hyatt we were able to get in.   The others with us picked the place because it was within easy walking distance for those of us staying in the Union Square area and it came highly recommended by the concierge.  The place was packed and we were not disappointed with the choice.

Not long after we were seated our waitress took a sidelong glance at Art and said “Didn’t I serve you at lunch?”  She apparently works at Cafe de La Presse during breakfast and lunch and at Scala’s for dinner.  We all teased Art about that since he was being seen with two different women on the same day.  Here we were greeted with another quote at the top of the menu, “One Cannot Think Well, Love Well, Sleep Well, If One Has Not Dined Well” ~ Virgina Woolf.  I was beginning to think this would become a regular tradition at local restaurants.

Bread with olive oil was set on the table and we all enjoyed what we ordered.  Some people ordered appetizers and salad.  I shared an order of Mussels with Art and my son ordered Bruschetta with a fennel pureè, poached prawns, squid ink aioli, and fennel pollen.  One word about squid ink – black.  My son’s mouth was black and black ink could be found on the table and on the napkin.  He had to exchange it for a new one.  Be careful when you eat that dish. 

The special for the night was a Lamb Shank with Risotto and Art, along with a few others, ordered it.  It was a huge portion of food.  I ordered the  Linguine & Clams consisting of small manila clams, garlic, roasted tomato, white wine, and Calabrian chilies.  The dish was also fairly large and somewhat spicy.  The linguine was a perfect al dente.  I decided to skip dessert since I had one earlier in the day but Art ordered the Bergamot Orange Granita / Tangerine Sorbet.  Expecting a small scoop in a small bowl, it was a real surprise to be presented with a large vertical oblong bowl with a significant amount of tangerine sorbet.  That was more dessert than expected.  We all left the restaurant full and happy.

So far, we’d only been in San Francisco for 24 hours and we already had some memorable meals and had the chance to meet with friends and family in one of our favorite places.  It doesn’t get any better than this.  Or, does it?